Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

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Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

After over a decade of writing music reviews for various sites and magazines I can still get surprised, like when I hear something that I should have heard quite some time ago and that only filtered its way through the media to me quite recently. Only last week Bowling For Soup’s “Punk Rock 101” came on the radio and I jumped out of my chair to read the DAB display before the track vanished, such was the reaction it provoked from me. I laughed, which not so many songs make me do, and I was reminded of Fountains Of Wayne in their heyday, and their smartly worded and often more than mildly humorous lyrics. Then I listened to Ezra Furman and a pattern began to emerge.

Aside from the awkwardly posed cover which has the intrepid Furman wearing, for want of a better phrase, women’s clothing (I gather he regularly performs in similar outfits), Perpetual Motion People is one very cleverly written and played album which could very likely gain the sort of responses from other listeners as that accidentally overheard Bowling For Soup track got from me. Furman is to all intents and purposes a comedian disguised as an indie musician disguised as a woman, and while gender issues don’t seem to crop up in the lyrics of his thirteen track newest release, quite a lot of other issues really do.

Every track on Perpetual Motion People has at least one definably quotable lyric and, after several listens I’ve yet to entirely decipher what if any message is contained in Ezra Furman’s music, aside from that there’s very probably something that he isn’t telling us. So I’m going to pick four tracks more or less at random, to get a reasonably accurate impression of exactly what’s going on or indeed going wrong in Furman’s world.

1) “Watch You Go By” – A mid-tempo ballad that’s somewhat reminiscent of mid-’70s Bob Dylan, at least in the musicality. “I’ve got a bright future in music,” sings Furman, “as long as I never find true happiness,” along with comments about his drinking and something about his parents. You can tell that Tom Waits is a major influence, as are probably some of those more acerbic singer songwriters of yesteryear such as Randy Newman, Dean Friedman and perhaps even (more recently) Robbie Williams, whom I’ve never quite got my own head around. Of course Williams takes his influences from non-English language vocalists such as Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg, so we’re onto something here.

2) “Hour Of Deepest Need” – Mercury Rev have a pretty bad hangover, and Furman’s got another skinful in him, “I can’t share this whisky with you through the phone,” although by the end of the song it’s probable that there’s none of that firewater left at the Furman place. If the preceding track referenced Dylan somewhere in its music, then there’s a touch of Harvest-era Neil Young or late-period CSNY in this song. Furman sounds progressively mellow as the song progresses and it’s probably the most serious performance on the album.

3) “Restless Year” – This is what you’ll hear first if you buy a copy of Perpetual Motion People and you should at least grin appreciatively when Furman sings “I got a bus pass to help me make my way” before yelling something about Dostoyevsky (the Russian novelist) and telling us all what a great guy his dad is over a sort of 60s garage-punk backing. You’ll probably decide before the track ends if you’re convinced or if you’re going to be convinced by Ezra Furman.

4) “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” – Track twelve and after all that whisky and those public transportation issues it’s hardly surprising that even Ezra Furman is feeling a bit drowsy, in a vaguely Lennonesque and verging-upon full confessional sort of way. This doesn’t last long though, the song gets halfway through as Furman switches his copy of Mind Games for Rock ‘N’ Roll and brings on a sax to give the proceedings a properly epic  touch, which any song with a title like “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” sort of needs.

There is of course more to Perpetual Motion People than what my abbreviated description reveals, and if nothing else Furman deserves an award of some sort for rhyming “letter to Congress” with “Indian headdress” on second track “Lousy Connection” and I haven’t even mentioned the ’50s doo-wop influences that are a big part of Ezra Furman’s sound. The cross-dressing thing begins to seem a bit of a distraction when the songs are as consistently literate and sharply played as they almost all are. He may like his disguises and perhaps enjoys provoking his audiences but underneath the image and the keen ear for wordplay a really quite serious songwriting talent is very determinedly making himself heard.

Bella Union